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Stardust

Paramount Pictures

Review in a Hurry:  Fairy tales don't come much fairer than this yarn about a young man who, while on a quest to impress the girl of his dreams, stumbles into a magical world that's more than he ever dreamed of.

The Bigger Picture:  It takes a certain kind of magic—the committed kind—to bring any unrepentant fantasy to the big screen. Stardust, thankfully, has it. Even before the impetuous Tristran (Charlie Cox) sets out to recover a fallen star as a token of affection for his unrequited love, it's clear that director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) has no reservations about embracing the genre or any shyness about potential silliness.

This turns out to be essential, since the star has the human form of Claire Danes, the general attitude of a cat that's been dunked in a bath and a motley assortment of pursuers. There's no way to pull off a story like that if you're even the slightest bit embarrassed by it. Stardust is good news for fans of the Neil Gaiman novel adapted here, but perhaps better news for those unacquainted with this charming "fairy tale for adults"—the film is filled with whimsical surprises that work best when you don't see them coming, secret identities best not revealed and swordfights you'd rather not have spoiled.

The dreamy cast hits all the right notes: Danes is fetching and deft as the disgruntled fallen star, Michelle Pfeiffer has the time of her life as a murderous (also vampy and hilarious) witch and Robert De Niro has a campy, off-kilter role as a deceptively sensitive pirate. Better yet, everyone down to the bit players seems to be in sync, as are the various set designers, costumers and CGI artists. Even if Stardust were merely the sum of its parts, it would be an impressive bit of craft.

You might say Stardust has shades of The Princess Bride, but this storybook movie has no reason to live in Bride’s shadow. If you're looking for a funny, thrilling, charming summer picture, one just fell magically into your lap.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  It's hard to imagine disliking Stardust, but there are probably plenty of people who might hate it on principle. If you can't abide boy-meets-girl stories (even ones that earn their sweetness), princes and princesses (even comically nasty ones) or high-fantasy sorcery 'n' swordplay, spare the rest of the audience your groans and sit this one out.